Students ‘Honor Their Past and Forge Their Future’ at the 2024 Kitsap Youth Rally

For 30 years, the Kitsap Youth Rally has welcomed students in celebrating diversity, social justice, and the ongoing fight for human rights.
During SKHS Builders of Unity/Advocates of Human Rights’ “A Kitsap Carol: Kitsap’s Past, Present, and Future” breakout session, the SKHS student volunteers help attendees connect where theyre originally from to where they currently live on a map with string.
During SKHS Builders of Unity/Advocates of Human Rights’ “A Kitsap Carol: Kitsap’s Past, Present, and Future” breakout session, the SKHS student volunteers help attendees connect where they’re originally from to where they currently live on a map with string.
Jada Cowley

On the morning of March 19 over 250 high school students and adults from across the Kitsap Peninsula bustled into the front entrance of the Bremerton Student Center at Olympic College to attend the annual Kitsap Youth Rally for Human Rights. The Kitsap Youth Rally welcomes students from all backgrounds to join together in learning about social justice and human rights. The event, hosted this year by Central Kitsap High School and sponsored by Kitsap Safe Schools Network and West Sound Academy, began at 8 a.m. and concluded at 1:20 p.m. 

The Rally officially commenced at 8:50 a.m. as crowds of students were ushered into the building’s gym to watch the event’s opening ceremony. CKHS student Phoebe Mejica delivered the event’s opening speech, acknowledging the importance of past and modern social justice activism as marginalized communities across the nation continue to fight for civil rights and equality. 

With this year’s theme for the Rally being “Honor Your Past, Forge Your Future,” Mejica took the opportunity to highlight the history of the Kitsap community in its pursuit of social justice, including the origins of the Kitsap County Council for Human Rights, credited for hosting the first Kitsap Youth Rally 30 years ago. 

We have come a long way since 1994.”

— Phoebe Mejica

“The Kitsap County Council for Human Rights was founded in 1989 after a cross was burned in front of the home of an interracial couple in North Kitsap,” said Mejica in the event’s opening ceremony. “The Council’s goal was to build a safe community that celebrates differences. In 1994 they hosted the first Kitsap Youth Rally for Human Rights. Over the past 30 years, this event has allowed thousands of students to engage in promoting equality and justice.”

An American Sign Language interpreter faces the crowd to translate the opening ceremony for attendees who may be deaf or hard of hearing. (Jada Cowley)

Next, Mejica handed the floor to CKHS’ Indigenous Student Union members, who performed two cultural dances. The opening ceremony concluded with David McClain, a member of the CKHS Black Student Union, reciting a poem he had written to the audience. As students were turned loose from the gym, they began making their way to their first breakout session of the day.

The event’s schedule was structured around three available time slots for breakout sessions. Attendees were given an informational pamphlet listing about six options for each session time slot, led by both student groups and volunteers from Kitsap-based organizations, and spanning about 45 minutes in length. 

Workshops addressed relevant issues and experiences in the LGBTQ+, Black, disabled, and deaf communities. The content of each available session varied, including presentations on topics such as the history of human rights in Kitsap County, the contributions of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, transgender history in western culture, and the history of rallies and riots in U.S. indigenous communities. Amongst the diverse selection of sessions, attendees were also given the option to participate in an open mic moderated by the WSA Music Ensemble or watch a film screening of “Reparations.”

My Day at the Kitsap Youth Rally 

At 7:50 a.m. on a Tuesday morning I would typically be seated in the newsroom of my 1st period Journalism class – yet, on March 19, I found myself listening to the far cry of Central Kitsap High School’s morning bell as I boarded a bus alongside a large cluster of students from an array of CKHS’ clubs, including the Black Student Union, Indigenous Student Union, American Sign Language Club, and Gender and Sexuality Awareness Club. 

For many students such as myself, this would be their first time attending the Kitsap Youth Rally. Several returning club advisers and student attendees could be overheard expressing their surprise at the sizable crowd of students gathered for the field trip, noting that the number of CKHS attendees this year appeared to have grown by quite a margin. 

The League of Women Voters of Kitsap offer information and resources for registering to vote. (Jada Cowley)

Once we arrived on campus, we were given the opportunity to settle in, welcomed to a complimentary table of snacks and drinks, and encouraged to walk around and browse a wide range of outreach tables from community organizations while our adult chaperones checked us in. 

I was able to speak to a handful of local organizations, social groups, and student volunteers– including the Accessible Communities Advisory Committee (ACAC), Kitsap Public Health, the NAACP (Branch 1134), Poulsbo Pride, and Global Periods– about the ways they service the Kitsap community and what they hope to achieve at this year’s Rally.  

“We secured all terrain and Hippocampe wheelchairs that the city of Bainbridge Island holds onto,” said Amanda Gonzalez, a member of the ACAC.

Amanda Gonzalez and Renae Baker share information about Kitsap County’s Accessible Communities Advisory Committee (ACAC) and offer potential alternatives to ableist language. (Jada Cowley)

“Anyone can rent them for free, they can take them out on trails. We have ramps that businesses or events can borrow to make your space more accessible temporarily, and we’re working on an accessible door for the SEA Discovery Center in Poulsbo, and accessible tricycles that the city of Poulsbo will also hang onto that people can rent for free. So, [we’re] just coming up with creative ways to get people outside, to get them connected with their community, and to participate in activities that they might normally [not] have the opportunity to do because of accessibility issues.” 

Breakout Session #1

I decided to attend the Kitsap Black Student Union’s “The Importance of Reaching Across Cultural Lines” for my first breakout session, spanning from 9:15-10:00 a.m. Throughout the session, KBSU founder Jewel Shepard Sampson and three student representatives encouraged attendees to recall how they were personally, socially, and academically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The room of attendees were paired in small groups of about four and given a series of questions to discuss amongst themselves, both serving as an icebreaker and a segway into the KBSU’s primary focus for the session.

Kitsap Black Student Union founder Jewel Shepard Sampson converses with the room of attendees as they share about their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jada Cowley)

 In the latter half of the session, each group shared what they had discussed with the entire room. The KBSU explained the importance of being able to look beyond differences when we interact with people from other cultures and backgrounds so that we can advocate, support, and uplift all people in our community— which, initially unbeknownst to attendees, the entire room had already been practicing during their earlier conversations.

Make a habit of learning something culturally new versus looking for commonalities amongst and enjoy those meaningful interactions, because it’s not all about you.

— Jewel Shepard Sampson

“There are people who say that it will never end– but I mean, we’ve come a long way, and I don’t know if you all have paid attention to what’s going on,” said Sampson. “We’re rolling backwards, and so this generation, you all are the changemakers. You’re the ones that actually have to stand up and say we are not tolerating this anymore.”



Breakout Session #2

Next, I made my way to the ACAC’s breakout session “Now You See Me, Now You Don’t,” where three volunteering members from the organization would discuss the treatment of invisible and visible disabilities and delve into common stereotypes, social stigmas, and misconceptions about disabled individuals. 

ACAC Volunteer Brent Rotter chats with one of the session’s attendees sitting across from him. (Jada Cowley)

As I entered the room, I was pleasantly surprised to recognize a couple of familiar faces. Alongside Amanda Gonzalez and Renae Baker, who I met earlier in the day at the ACAC’s booth, I was also introduced to volunteer Brent Rotter. 

“Because I spent several hours of my life as a non-disabled person, I lived a relatively carefree, easy lifestyle, and something that really resonated with me recently is that we’re all going to become disabled at some point in our life or we’re going to die young, because that’s how aging works,” said Rotter. “It’s really easy to dismiss individual disabilities we don’t think about all the time, but our grandparents with Alzheimer’s, dementia, depression, anxiety– these are all things that affect our day to day lives and that limit our function in life.”

Amanda Gonzalez joins a group of students as they share their input on the discussion questions they received. (Jada Cowley)

Similarly to my first breakout session, all of the attendees in the room were paired in small groups and given slips of paper with varying scenarios and questions to discuss. In my group, we talked through a handful of situations, including whether or not we think it’s always necessary to ask for consent before physically assisting a disabled person, if we should use person-first (person with a disability) or identity-first (disabled person) language, and frequent barriers a person with a physical disability may encounter when trying to navigate public spaces or services that aren’t easily accessible. 

Breakout Session #3

For my final breakout session, I chose to attend SKHS Builders of Unity/Advocates of Human Rights’ “A Kitsap Carol: Kitsap’s Past, Present, and Future.” SKHS students Autumn Shepard, Adrian Schoone, and Marley Nunes led students through a presentation highlighting key moments for human rights throughout Kitsap County’s history, beginning with the aforementioned 1989 cross burning incident that prompted the founding of The Kitsap County Council for Human Rights. 

All attendees took turns reading aloud short informational excerpts about Kitsap’s past to its present in chronological order. Once the activity was completed, the SKHS students distributed sticky notes and asked attendees to write what they would like to see in the future of the Kitsap community.

By the end of the session, attendees could look at the maps on the board and see that everyone in the room had come from a range of places across the world, yet can now all call Kitsap home. (Jada Cowley)

Next, attendees were prompted to pinpoint across two maps where they were originally from and where they live currently, with the two distances being connected by a line of string. While the SKHS student speakers aided each attendee in placing their line of string, attendees turned to the rest of the room and read what they wrote on the sticky note. 



The Closing Ceremony

After the third breakout session concluded, attendees were treated to a catered lunch from 12:10-1:00 p.m. Options for lunch included a range of sandwich wraps, chips, fruit bars, cookies, and bottled water. During this time, attendees were also once again encouraged to explore the information outreach booths. 

Once the lunch period ended, attendees transitioned back to the gym for the closing ceremony. McClain recited a second poem for the audience, and a line of student volunteers read submissions gathered from attendees during lunch, filling in the blanks in the statement “Today I honor __. Tomorrow I fight for __.”  CKHS’ Instru-Mentoring Club closed out the event with a brief musical performance. 



Donate to Cougar Chronicle
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists of Central Kitsap High School. Your contribution will help us cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to Cougar Chronicle
Our Goal